Here at AOPA headquarters, as well as when we are on the road, we are often asked, “What is a flying club?” The assumption is that the questioner is looking for a definition – something from Webster’s dictionary, perhaps, that’s easy to understand.
I have an answer but it may not be the one you expect. However, rather than jumping right to that, let me review some common thoughts and try to explain some of the definitions you have heard. While none are completely right or wrong, they do have to be applied to specific situations for them to make any sense. And, once removed from one situation, one definition may not apply at another airport or operation.
The IRS is usually the first place organizers of clubs will look for guidance. Although the IRS does not specifically address flying clubs, there are definitions for clubs and social organizations that will apply to the various tax benefits for those looking to operate in a not-for-profit environment. Professional advice will be necessary to determine which IRS definition works for you.
If you are one to look to the FAA for guidance, you might come across Advisory Circular AC 00-25 titled “forming and operating a flying club.” The AC explains that its purpose is to “provide preliminary information to flight-minded men and women who wish to form and operate a flying club.” Then it goes on to define a flying club as: “An organization of three or more individuals who join together to obtain the benefits of flying whether their flight aims be for business, pleasure, or for educational purposes.” While this sounds like a reasonable definition, you might have noticed that the language is a bit old-fashioned – and you would be right. The date on the Advisory Circular is May, 1969. Even though it is nearly 45 years old, it continues to provide good guidance. We are working with the FAA to modernize it where appropriate.
If your web search turned up more than one hit from FAA it would probably be Order 5190.6B. This is a guidance document for operations at a small percentage of the 5,000 + airports in the U.S. that are part of the federal Airport Compliance Program. A small portion of the document, section 10.6, addresses flying clubs. The purpose is to provide a segmentation that allows an airport to offer lesser minimum standards for a club than would be required of a profit-based business. The order defines a flying club as “a nonprofit or not-for-profit entity organized for the express purpose of providing its members with aircraft for their personal use and enjoyment.”
Then there are the states – some states have definitions of flying clubs and some do not. These can typically be found in the state’s Department of Transportation codes. For example, Minnesota defines a flying club as “any entity other than an individual which neither for profit nor compensation owns, leases or uses one or more aircraft for the purpose of instruction, business or pleasure.” Most often, the states’ definitions pertain to business licensing or operating privileges.
Hundreds of clubs and some organizations, also define their clubs or, in AOPA’s case, the AOPA flying club initiative. They are far too numerous to go into with any detail.
So where does that leave us in answering the initial question of what is a flying club? It is far more than a simple definition. It is the spirit and enthusiasm that the members bring to the club; the camaraderie of getting together to go flying or enjoying a social event with other aviation enthusiasts. It really does not matter if it is a for-profit or not-for-profit group if the spirit of enjoying the freedom to fly and sharing it with others is the mantra.